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01/29/2021 Portland Update

We look forward to seeing everyone online for the NIU, NRU and Power Services meetings next week. Meeting materials for all meetings will be distributed by the end of the day today. If you have not received your packets, please contact Ellyn at egroves@nru-nw.com and she will make sure you are taken care of.

Columbia River Treaty Modernization Effort

The Columbia River Treaty Power Group (CRTPG) continues to engage in a concerted effort to modernize the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) between the U.S. and Canada. The goal of the group is to more equitably balance the power benefits allocated to each country under the treaty. This effort has been ongoing for close to ten years and with the bulk of the action taking place in DC, it can sometimes be difficult to discern where progress has been made. The intention of this update is to share some of the actions undertaken in 2020 and accomplishments credited to those efforts and to also share a brief outline of the strategy the group will employ to advance this initiative under the Biden administration.

Flood risk management is a key element of the treaty. In fact, the flood risk management provisions of the CRT sunset in 2024. During the course of 2020, the CRTPG was able to get confirmation that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering has appropriations authority to spend federal appropriations on flood risk management. This was important to allowing flood risk management costs to be separated from water management for power, and the Corps subsequently submitted a request to the Office of Management and Budget to be included in a formal proposal that was offered to Canada by the U.S. negotiating team in 2020. The proposal that was presented to Canada in September was reported to be favorable to CRTPG interests and goals but was rejected by Canada.

In other action during 2020, the Seattle Times published an op-ed signed by CRTPG members Debra Smith of Seattle City Light, Chris Robinson of Tacoma Power and Kevin Nordt of Grant County PUD that outlined the imbalance of the treaty and importance of negotiating a new treaty plus tipped out the option of issuing a notice of intent to terminate the power provisions of the treaty. This was in important educational piece and placement in a market that is very hard to penetrate and is known to be monitored by the Canadians.

Following the rejection of the U.S. proposal by Canada and the placement of the CRTPG op-ed in the Seattle Times, the CRTPG engaged once again with members of the Northwest congressional delegation to assist with our efforts. Senators Cantwell and Risch requested a secure debrief from the September negotiations at our request. Although the debrief was classified and could not be shared with us, it served the purpose of reminding the State negotiator that we are resolute on this issue. The delegation went even further in support of our efforts when Senator Murray submitted the CRT as a top priority for the first 100 days for the Biden Administration and Senator Cantwell’s office expressed interest in coordinating a Northwest delegation letter regarding the CRT to the Biden administration.

The transition to the Biden administration is generally viewed as a positive by CRTPG consultants working in Washington D.C. as the Biden administration is shaping up to be more traditional than its predecessor. Many Biden appointees are seasoned professionals who are already informed on this issue from their service during the Obama administration; an era that saw some movement on this issue, including the completion of the Circular 175 authorizing negotiations with Canada on the treaty. The ascension of members of the Northwest delegation to key leadership roles is also considered a positive outcome from the recent election cycle.

The strategy of the CRTPG in 2021 will be to position balancing of the treaty benefits as a crucial component to achieving President Biden’s climate goals. The return of several 100 MW’s of carbon free energy to the U.S. should resonate with the current administration’s desire to curtail or eliminate fossil fuels and strengthen our economy. The CRTPG will employ simultaneous outreach to advance our message with key members of the Northwest delegation, incoming senior White House officials, the U.S. Entity, and other key federal agencies. Much of the details remain to be sorted out as appointments to key positions are still being made but the CRTPG is committed to a press in the first quarter of 2021. From that point, the CRTPG will assess how much traction CRT and the CRTPG efforts have with the Biden administration.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly at jfrancisco@nru-nw.com.

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